Friday, March 25, 2011

A Letter This Morning the President and Vice President.  

Dear President Obama/Vice President Biden,

It is time to end the war in Afghanistan. 

The violence and unrest there is making healing and rebuilding for the good of the Afghan people almost impossible.  They are turning, again, to the Taliban for their needs.

Hope for something good to come of our presence is waning at an exponential rate - among US ranks and in the entire geographical/political region.

The quagmire that is our war has become distracting to our image as a compassionate people on the world stage.

Most importantly, people in the US are turning their backs on this war.  Nothing now or in our future can turn to good when an entire people begin to treat war like a casual political snafu.

Please, please, please.  Keep your pledge to begin troop withdrawal in July of 2011.  Let's leave with some haste, determination, and honor.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Did We Forget Something?

March 20, 2003...remember that day?  It's the Thursday US troops swooped into the capital of Iraq on a mission best known for its shock and awe...less known for its effectiveness.

The stated objective of that pre-emptive invasion?
Find and destroy weapons of mass destruction.
Find and destroy the bellicose tyrant Sadaam Hussein. 
As history painfully reminds us, there were no WMDs in Iraq.  And while toppling a statue of Sadaam proved relatively easy (20 days post initial invasion), capturing the evasive and politically fallen Hussein actually took nine months.

Even so, our troops stayed in Iraq in a military posture until August 18, 2010.  During that seven and a half years, 751-billion US dollars were spent, 4,424 American troops were killed, and an estimated 1.5 million Iraqi civilians died. In our war.

How is it, then, that this date in our nation's story has become so - apparently - forgettable? 

I missed the mention of it in my daily newspaper last weekend.  I saw no headline about it on my iGoogle news page.  I checked the nation's front pages on Newseum and found nothing.  Then I went about my Sunday, remembering only to mention the significance of the date once over dinner with friends.

Ummm.  Hmmmm.  A glance at our plates and into our drinking glasses.  That was it.

In the four days that have followed I have spent a potentially unhealthy amount of time on the Washington Post website Faces of the Fallen.  I find it compelling to look at the faces and names and ages and hometowns of those who went into that mess and never came back to their families.

I have also reviewed pictures in my archives to remind me what war actually leaves in its wake...

Because I have never lived in a land where guns and bombs and buried explosive devices and military checkpoints were part of the everyday experience.

How quickly and easily and happily we forget.  

In case you missed mention of the anniversary in your newspaper last weekend, here's the latest from Iraq: 

Since the last of our combat units pulled out of Baghdad seven months ago, 22 Americans have died.  Thirteen of those deaths were "in combat." The rest are labeled "non-combat related," but I don't think it's a stretch to say there's probably not an American soldier in Iraq undergoing some type of advanced medical treatment for a terminal illness.

War is a terminal illness.  And we are all dying from it these days.

How, in the name of heaven, could we forget March 20, 2003? 

If we don't remember, we just keep repeating*** (see comments).


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Silence is....Amazing

When it came time to think about church today, instead of pouring myself another cup of coffee and diving into the back sections of the newspaper as I often do these days, I decided to try something new.

A Friends Meeting.

For those of you who've stuck with Mainstream Religion your entire lives, with nary a thought of betraying the tradition of your particular practice, let me enlighten you:  Friends in this context are Quakers.  Really, who wouldn't be drawn to a people who throw this disclaimer onto their national website's homepage: 

Quakers are not: Amish, Anabaptists, Shakers or Puritans--we come from a separate tradition than these other groups. We mostly don't dress like the man on the box of oats anymore, and today we hardly ever call people "thee."

No one called me "thee" this morning.  In fact I arrived and found a seat in a large, four row circle of silence.  That's what Quakers do on Sunday mornings.  They sit, unless someone in the group feels called to speak, in silence. For an hour.  There is no call to worship, no responsive reading, no scripture recitation, no singing, no confession of faith, no assurance of pardon, no prayers of the people, no sermon.  You are totally on your own to make connection with The Holy.  

What a contrast - I thought, as I first settled into the quiet - to church last week.  Last week I sat among old friends and, well, gossiped a bit as we gathered for worship.  Then I downloaded a Bible app to my phone during announcements...and, okay, I might have checked my email too.  I probably added one or two items to my phone app shopping list while I was at it.  Then I numbly stood and sat and sang and bowed my head and did it again another two to three times before listening with almost undivided attention to the words someone else had decided I needed to hear.  

Today, I was on my own.  Once I found my breath and some focus, I heard my call to worship. It was a songbird - I kid you not - singing ever so sweetly just outside the door of the worship center.  When she flew to a branch a little farther out of earshot I began to hear the responsive reading - the long breaths of over 50 people gathered, the sighs, the coughs, the whispers, the quiet tip-toeing in of late comers...assurances that I was not alone.  Scripture came easily into my head when I went looking in that unreliable old vault that is my memory:  Be still and know that I am God.  I examined the text at length - word by word: 

Be - it is not time to DO, it is time to BE
Still - all that makes your heart race, your blood boil, your mind tilt...let it go
And - there is more I must tell you
Know - you have wisdom from many sources...your intellect, your life experiences, your heart...know
That -  an elliptical imperative, of sorts...a "pay attention" conjunction.  I was paying attention...
I - not YOU
am - active verb...not was, not will be...AM
God - Creator, Inspirer, Celebrator, Griever, Father, Mother, Gift Giver, Holy Holy Holy - God.

Then I became aware of the busyness of the street outside the building, and I turned my thoughts to intercession on behalf of all those who could not find stillness in the morning.  Perhaps the man sitting next to me?  Maybe someone in my family.  Certainly the people of Japan.  Most likely many people in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya.  The President?  The Governor?  The Grieved?  The Sick?  The Poor?  The Lost?  The Lonely? I have never found so many names and faces in my prayers. 
And then, much to my surprise, a rustle and a mumble began and I opened my eyes to find an extended hand and a smile on the face of the young man sitting in front of me.  "God's peace be with you," he said.  The hour was finished.  I had sat my multi-tasking, media-loving, blurt-style-talking self down for a full hour of silence.

And I have spent the balance of the day quietly wondering this:  What if we all spent an hour a week being instead of doing, listening instead of talking?  What if knowing came from the heart and hearing included the songs of birds?  What if the presence of the Divine was something very real for one full hour every week?  

What kind of world would that be?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On God

I met a friend for lunch yesterday.  We sat outside on a glorious Texas spring afternoon, ate vegetables with chopsticks and talked about life.  Usually that conversation involves career explorations (hers) and fashion faux pas (mine) and husbands (ours).  We have the kind of friendship that is soulful but generally filled with laughter and fun.

Yesterday was different.  My friend began our time together by showing me the photo of a strikingly handsome young man who she described as "the kind of guy who does nothing but good in the world - everybody's friend" ...

And of course he had been killed in an accident two days before while crossing a street in Vail, CO.  

"This is a faith crisis for me," she said. 

"I guess so," I said.

"Why do such good people get taken so young?"  she asked.  And I remembered that this was the second wonderful young person "taken" from her circle in the last few years.

 "I don't believe they are taken, if you mean taken by God,"  I said.  "I believe shit happens."

Then I told her this is one of the most frequently revisited topics of theological debate among my circle of churched friends - some of whom are giants of the faith.  The question is usually expressed this way:  Do you believe in a God who can intervene in our circumstances but doesn't, or do you believe in a God who can't intervene in our circumstances? 

I choose the latter.  I would live in a constant crisis of faith if I didn't.  Who can believe in a Loving God who can but won't stop the tragic deaths of good people or wars or famines or tsunamis or murders or bullying or hate crimes or...well, fill in your own blanks. 

I should say here that my own husband and I disagree on this piece of critical thinking about God.  It is a complicated bit of pondering.

In an unrelated, but eventually related matter...I grabbed a Bible from the bookshelf this morning to look up a Psalm about being hard-headed (Psalm 32:9, if you need to read it too).  Two pages of lined paper fell out of the front of the book.  In my handwriting was a document titled Faith Statement.  It was dated March 20, 2004...the 1st anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. I imagine I was having a faith crisis that day. And I am guessing I struggled to cover the rough terrain of my soul as it ached for Americans and Iraqis in the middle of that quagmire.  Here's the result:

I believe in God - Father, Mother, Creator.
When I see a sunrise or a sunset or a new baby...when I feel someone's touch in a moment that I didn't even realize I needed to be touched...when I eat an amazing piece of fruit or arrange an armful of flowers...when something grows in my yard...
It is so obvious to me that God exists, creates, enjoys creation and delights in us.  
I believe in that God.  I cling to that God.  

I believe in prayer.
Not so much in prayer that manipulates the Universe, but in a focused acknowledgment of the powerful lingering of all that is Divine and Holy.  A significant part of prayer is remembering and refreshing this good and active place in my consciousness.

I believe shit happens.
Certain cells mutate in a body and specific diseases wage war and win. Certain distractions arise in human theater and specific deadly consequences result.  Certain laws of physics prevail when hot air meets cold air and specific monumental disasters, called natural, occur.  Certain people are elected/appointed/seize positions of power and specific political nightmares, called war, unfold.  

I DO NOT believe God is in the business of dropping in and changing the course of Creation and its inevitable messiness.   
But I do believe God cries. He/She is crying with me over our war and our dead young people.

...the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan...and the ones in Vail, Colorado.

Some days, belief in a God who cries is my strongest statement of faith. 

Shit happens. God cries.

And we all grab beauty in this life when and where we can:  On a patio with a friend and veggies and chopsticks...talking about things that matter. 


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On Women and Sleds

One of my earliest memories is of my mother tying the strings of a knit hat underneath my chin and telling me, "You can do anything those boys can do." 

The occasion was a snowy day in Nashville, Tennessee.  My father was taking me sledding with his friends and their children - all boys.  I remember very little about the rest of the day, except not having as many turns on the sled as I wanted.  I was not quite five years old, and I suppose it had never occurred to me to think I couldn't do everything a boy could do...if I had my own sled.

And isn't that what it's all about, really?  Who owns the sled?  

On this 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, I awoke to a list of statistics that made me feel like I've done nothing more spectacular than a man in the last 50 years than live in denial.  Keeping up with the boys...where has it left us?   Take a look:
  • 2/3 of the work done in the world is done by women
  • 10% of the world's income is earned by women
  • 1% of the world's property is owned by women
  • 70-million girls in the world are denied access to basic education because they are girls
  • 1 in 4 women in the world are victims of domestic violence
  • 3 women a day are killed in the United States by intimate partners
Let's not even begin the conversation about what a pregnancy does to a woman's career...or sexual harassment...or an affair.  Honestly, when has one of these things compromised the power of a man? 

I have found a bit of solace today in the words of the late, great Ann Richards: 
If you give us the chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.
Still, I'm betting Ginger had a joint banking account with Fred and that he called the shots.  Dancing backwards, I'm thinking, is not going to change the ways of world.

Stepping up, marching forward, and standing firm...that, my Sisters, changes the world.

So let's begin...high heels in the back of the closet where they belong, resolve on our minds, a better future for the next generation of women in our hearts:

Step 1:  Acknowledge the truth. We are not considered equals in this world. 

Step 2: Fight for yourself and for others.

Step 3: Call on the Sisterhood...which is strong and smart and steady and sane...when you need help.

Step 4:  Be ready to help. 

The US constitution still does not have an Equal Rights Amendment.  I can't believe the fact of that doesn't disappointment my mother - a strong woman who raised four capable daughters to live in the world with a lie.   

We cannot do everything the boys can do, Mom. 

They still own the sleds.